In Upcoming Election, For Whom Should Catholics Vote?

Friday, Oct. 07, 2016
By Jean Hill
Director, Diocese of Salt Lake City Office of Life, Justice and Peace

One political candidate appears to oppose abortion, but would leave thousands of refugees to die in war-torn countries and send thousands more back to countries plagued by violence. One would care for the refugees, but is an adamant supporter of the “right to choose.” For whom should Catholics vote?
There is no easy answer, nor can any entity or organization tell a Catholic voter for whom they must vote. Each of us is required to form our own consciences continually and discern for ourselves who would best protect the dignity and sanctity of all life.  
Despite a tendency to oversimplify our pro-life beliefs, being a pro-life Catholic involves much more than saying “no” to abortion.  In fact, protecting life requires us to be concerned about multiple issues, including economics, racism, criminal justice, immigration, health care, poverty and climate change – all of which impact life and death decisions, including abortion.  
As we struggle with electoral choices, many groups offer assistance. Some would like to simplify the process and insist we must vote for a particular candidate because of his or her stance on specific issues. That is not consistent with Catholic teaching. Others are subtler, but still carry an agenda that may reflect some of our teaching, or perhaps none at all. 
What political parties and special interest groups often obscure is that no political or social issue exists in a vacuum. Marriage, for example, requires not only support for the institution, but also support for families through economic and health care policies. Voting for a candidate who says she supports marriage is not necessarily sufficient if the candidate also opposes measures that help families stay together. Making the connections between issues is one step in our conscience formation for faithful citizenship.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops provides a comprehensive document to aid Catholic voters as they face difficult and important choices among those running to be our political leaders on all levels. The bishops know that election decisions are difficult.  As they note in Faithful Citizenship, a Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who supports abortion, assisted suicide, racism, or exploitation of workers or the poor “if the voter’s intent is to support that position.” But most of the time, a candidate’s policies or positions will be directly opposed to our beliefs in one area but not another. The bishops recognize that, more often than not, we may have to decide “which candidate is less likely to advance … a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.”
Voters trying to make such distinctions need to spend quality time in prayer and contemplation. We also need to dig deep in elections, learning the candidates’ positions on multiple issues, seeking information from several reliable sources (which, admittedly, are sometimes hard to find), and questioning the policies of the candidates beyond the snippets released in press statements or news stories. 
Our obligation as voters is a serious one. Our moral responsibility as Catholics is even more so. Faithful Citizenship guides us through a sound process of formation as we make voting decisions consistent with our beliefs. The document is an essential guide to help each of us develop a well-formed conscience before selecting candidates on national, state and local levels.
Please take some time before mail-in ballots arrive to study Faithful Citizenship and engage in the ongoing formation of a strong Catholic conscience before selecting your candidates. The document and many additional resources are available at
Jean Hill is director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City Peace and Justice Commission.

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